2022 NBA Playoffs: 76ers rise as serious title contenders
The NBA postseason is finally here, and after a crazy regular season, the best teams in the league are battling for a spot in the 2022 NBA Finals. Ranked as one of the favorites to win the title at the end of the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have an uphill battle going into this year’s playoffs.
On paper, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat appear to be superior, although the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets may be contended as well. The Sixers, on the other hand, have Joel Embiid, a finalist for the MVP award, and James Harden, a former MVP. Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris may be explosive on any given night, and Matisse Thybulle has established himself as a defensive pillar on this squad.
After a disappointing start to the season, when the team failed to come up with results and was ranked at the bottom of the Eastern Conference rankings, the Philadelphia 76ers renewed their championship aspirations with the acquisition of James Harden in the trade deadline.
Harden’s arrival in Philadelphia was acrimonious, since it was surrounded by broken relationships, another unhappy player, and two Atlantic Division teams with generational talents trying to maximize their championship chances.
Together, Harden and Embiid have created an almost unstoppable pick-and-roll and have shown subtle signs of becoming one of the most dangerous scoring duos in the league.
Embiid and Harden are incredible players, but there are serious concerns about the new duo. Embiid’s health remains a major concern, especially in the midst of a deep playoff run following an MVP-caliber season. As the single floor general, Harden’s ability to lead a championship-caliber squad is also an issue. And, perhaps most importantly, can two such immensely skilled offensive talents defer enough to one another to be genuinely successful? While it’s difficult to predict how much connection Harden and Embiid will have after a full season, Doc Rivers and his staff will aim to capitalize on whatever they can gain through this year’s playoffs.
According to media analysts and sportsbooks at us-bookies.com, the Philadelphia 76ers are at +500 odds to win the Eastern Conference, and at +1300 odds to win the 2021-22 NBA championship. Despite these long odds, the Sixers remain one of the top contenders in this year’s postseason.
With the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers are now facing the No. 5 seed Toronto Raptors, and so far, the series has been a bit one-sided.
In the playoffs, when talent frequently overcomes all other considerations, games and series frequently come down to who has the greatest individual players. And the 76ers might be one of the top three.
Embiid averaged 27.7 points and 13.0 rebounds in the first three games of the series. He made a game-winning buzzer-beating three-pointer to put the series on the edge of a sweep. James Harden is averaging 18.3 points and 10.0 assists per game while shooting 46.7 percent from three-point range. Both are lower than Tyrese Maxey’s average game score. He’s averaging 26.7 points per game while shooting 60.0 percent from the field.
Despite a disappointing performance in Game 4, when the Raptors were able to count on an inspired night by Pascal Siakam to avoid the sweep, the 76ers are well on their way to the Conference semifinals. And with Scottie Barnes out due to an injury sustained in Game 1 and Siakam and VanVleet battling for efficiency, it appears that Toronto will not be able to prolong this series.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “Embiid will require surgery to address the ligament tear in his right thumb, but that procedure will wait until after the Sixers’ season”.
Embiid has been dealing with a thumb issue, which head coach Doc Rivers said on Sunday was a torn ligament. However, to the relief of every Sixers fan reading this, neither the injury confirmation nor the operation report will influence Embiid’s availability for the duration of the playoffs.
Embiid is no stranger to playing in pain during the playoffs. He tore his right meniscus in the first round of the playoffs last year, but he only missed one game. He returned to the court for the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, appearing in all seven games of the Sixers’ heartbreaking series defeat.
While this isn’t a new circumstance for Embiid or the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s still far from ideal. Just like last year, it appears that the Sixers will be unable to win without their native star on the court. A wounded Embiid is preferable to no Embiid, but it means that James Harden and Tyrese Maxey will have to take on greater responsibilities, while players like Danny Green and Tobias Harris will have to improve their performance and attempt to pick up the burden.